Volkswagen Rides Internet Wave to Puerto Rico

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Targeting affluent Puerto Ricans ages 21 to 34, the local Volkswagen distributor has broken its first Internet marketing campaign in the U.S. commonwealth.


Called "Surfers Wanted," a play on Volkswagen's "Drivers Wanted" tag line, the sweepstakes aims to drive traffic to four showrooms in Puerto Rico selling the 2002 Golf GLS model.


To encourage sign-ups, consumers are offered prizes including a Volkswagen Golf GLS, a round trip for two from San Juan to New York on American Airlines and a five-day southern Caribbean cruise for two.


Interamericana Transport Industries, Volkswagen's Miami-based distributor for the Caribbean and Latin America, had two main reasons for this campaign, which cost less than $100,000.


"Meeting the needs of users that were online, which they've never really had before, that was one challenge," said Cynthia Nelson, CEO of Interamericana interactive agency of record Communita, Coral Gables, FL. "The other challenge was to maintain brand integrity for the region by not allowing their dealers to set up their own Web sites, which they were starting to do. When you have three or four dealers in a country, when they start cutting pricing online, it becomes very sticky."


The German automaker has roughly 10 percent market share worldwide and is one of the top six car brands in Puerto Rico. But it is not one of the top three, with Toyota Motor Co. at the top of the heap. This campaign aims to change that.


"Specifically, this was a way for them to introduce the Internet to not only their dealer locations in Latin America, but also to users in Latin America," Nelson said. "It's also a way for them to collect data about the people who are visiting the showrooms so that they can do upselling and cross-selling, announcing new cars or whenever they have new promotions."


Targeting younger, affluent Puerto Ricans, "Surfers Wanted" looks to strike a chord in water-locked Puerto Rico. The grand-prize car has a built-in roof rack accessory with a surfboard attached. The surfboard was made by local designer Werner Vega and sports a Volkswagen logo and Web address.


For six weeks through the end of July, Interamericana will run banners and skyscraper advertisements on AOL Puerto Rico and Zonai.com, Web site of El Nueva Dia, the island's leading Spanish newspaper. Users will be asked to visit the Volkswagen site to register for the sweepstakes that pops up on the home page.


The sweepstakes itself seeks name, age, gender and e-mail address. Registrants will be asked to rank their perception of Volkswagen in Puerto Rico. More importantly, they will rank the importance of dealer salesman experience, warranty, brand, price and resale value in making the purchase decision.


"Using the sweepstakes information, we'll then start sending them e-mails and other forms of direct marketing," Nelson said.


While the online database is being built, dealers will supplement that effort by asking showroom visitors to fill out data cards. Combined, this information will be used to deliver more news of latest Volkswagen models.


Plans call for rolling out this effort by end of August to countries like Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Uruguay, Panama and El Salvador.


Interamericana traditionally uses print and radio advertising, plus public relations, to pitch Volkswagen cars to Puerto Ricans. Persuading the company to add the Internet was not easy, Nelson said.


"They're very traditional in their thought process," she said. "Even internally at Interamericana, trying to have their marketing people convince the upper management was tough."


But once Communita sold them on the concept, the upper echelons were happy. Now, the agency has won interactive marketing responsibilities for Volkswagen's Audi brand in Latin America.


Still, at no stage will Volkswagen let any dealers set up their own Web sites without consultation from about 200 pages of guidelines on how to present the Volkswagen brand and image online.


"This is a way for them to actually take a little bit more control away from the dealers and use some of their marketing and co-op funding to do the online promotion, car giving and ongoing online marketing," Nelson said.


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